Without proper planning, your Last Will and Testament determines who inherits your property—everything from your home, car, bank accounts and personal possessions. Your spouse may not necessarily be your heir—and that’s just one of many reasons to have an estate plan. An estate plan avoids a “default” asset distribution, says the recent article from LimaOhio.com.
Let’s say someone names a nephew as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. The life insurance company has a contractual legal responsibility to pay the nephew when the policy owner dies. In turn, the nephew will be required to provide a death certificate and prove that he is indeed the nephew. This is an example of an asset governed by a contract, also described as a named beneficiary.
Assets that are not governed by a contract are distributed to whoever a person directs to get the asset in their will, aka their last will and testament. If there is no will, the state law will determine who should get the assets in a process known as “intestate probate.”
In this process, when there is a last will, the executor is in charge of the assets. The executor is overseen by the probate court judge, who reviews the will and must give approval before assets can be distributed. However, the probate court’s involvement comes with a price, and it is not always a fast process. It is always faster and less costly to have an asset be distributed through a contract, like a trust or by having a beneficiary named to the asset.
If a will only provides limited instructions, the state’s law will fill in the gaps. Therefore, any assets that pass-through contracts will be distributed directly, assets noted in the will go through probate and anything else will go usually to the next of kin.
A better course of action is to determine how you want your assets distributed. Then, have an estate attorney create an estate plan to make this happen in a smooth, tax-efficient manner.